Outtake 1 – Nankai District Office

The first outtake represents my original idea for the entrance of Shanghai Dog into TMAC (C5, E17). It is an important scene because it introduces a mature Odysseus-figure into the novel and jolts the temporal frame from 1984 to 2008. This enables me to write about my experiences in China. It also serves other purposes like compromising the distinction between fiction and autobiography.

In the end, I went with the airplane scene because it places Shanghai Dog directly en route back to Australia, just like Odysseus in Book 12 after he leaves Phaeacia. It also mirrors the entrance of Don Hallem in Chapter Two, thereby activating the “son must repeat the journey of the father” trope. And it reverses chronology by introducing Shanghai Dog after he has left China. This means that his later scenes in the novel become retrospective (posteriori), and can be seen through the lens of his decision to go home.

In contrast, this plot strand would have become linear and consecutive if I had used the deleted Nankai office scene. It would have created a whole lot of extra plot requirements that needed to be filled. It was a bit too discursive… even for TMAC!

But I still think it’s a neat piece of writing. It is actually a pretty accurate description of my working life in China from 2005-2013. In fact, it’s probably the best piece of ‘atmospheric’ writing that I ever wrote while I was living in China. I like its clinical style a lot. I wasn’t really writing TMAC during that 8-year period. It was incubating and morphing in my mind as FORM. I was like Menealus wrestling Proteus. During that long stretch, I never got bored or disspirited about the basic concept of Telemachus. It always stood the test of time. This meant that it was only a matter of executing the text when I got home, normally my strong point. In the end, it took me approximately 7 years – the same amount of time it took Joyce to write Ulysses.

You can read Outtake 1 below.

Nankai District Offices (draft – 10 April 2012)

Today, I went to some meetings at the Nankai District Government offices in Tianjin with my partner, Zhou (Joe). We caught the new bullet train from Beijing. The trip took 29 minutes (108km). That’s less time than it took our driver to get from the Peninsula Hotel on Goldfish Lane (Jingyu Hutong) to Beijing South Station (Beijingnan Zhan), even using Ring Road 2 (er huan lu) past the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan). Tianjin is the major port city for north-east China on the Bohai Sea. Nankai is located in the central business district. Zhou Enlai went to Nankai Middle School and later Nankai University. It is also the hometown of Prime Minister Wen. LINK both politicians to the fate of King Alcinous on Phaeacia. It has just been selected as the latest development zone for the dregs of Deng’s Reform and Opening Up (Gai Ge Kai Fang) policy. NOTE Deng = Poseidon (= punisher of). It has a mandate to become a new financial services hub for north China. There are lots of deals getting done. I am representing a major foreign institution seeking to build a portfolio of existing and new infrastructure projects with adjacent mixed-use property development opportunities. This structure combines the stable revenue stream of toll roads with blue-sky profits from real estate. I opened my briefing notes and blew straight to the first table (see Aeolus). It contained high-level economic indicators for Tianjin:




Population (million)


Ranked No.6 in China – autonomous city (province status)

GDP 2009


+20% growth YOY since 2001

Forecast GDP 2010-14


4% above national average

Port – cargo tonnage (tons)


Ranked No.4 globally (2009)

Port – TEU


Ranked No.11 globally (2009)

The key economic zone in Tianjin is called Binhai New Area. It is an area of 3,000km2 including 153 km of undeveloped coastline. Tianjin Economic Development Area (TEDA) within Binhai New Area was ranked as China’s No.1 economic zone each year from 1997-2008. Today, Binhai New Area generates over 50% of Tianjin’s GDP. A “New Wall Street” will be constructed on a 4km2 site in TEDA over the next 3-5 years at a cost of RMB500 billion (AUD100 billion). This is 30% larger than Pudong. These twin financial centres in Shanghai and Tianjin will enable China to detach itself from reliance on Hong Kong once and for all. It can then be brought to heel (see Note on Deng above). My business secured one of the first funds management licenses in Binhai New Area in 2009. We hope to use it to raise our first wholesale infrastructure fund. But first we need to establish a strong track record with the city government. It can generate access to a deep pipeline of off-market transactions. Our meetings are being coordinated by the CEO of Tianjin Hitech Investment Park (THIP). He is a former employee of my business partner’s father. Today, we will be offered a pilot project. We need to put this deal away. Shanghai Dog examined his trip schedule. Morning – Nankai Government. Lunch – THIP offices. Dinner – hotel (banquet). Unwritten was the end of the night which was always a high-priced KTV. We were collected from Tianjin Station (Tianjin Zhan) by three representatives of THIP. In the car park, we exchanged business cards. They read the Mandarin side of my card and started chuckling. I turned to Zhou.

“What are they laughing at?” I asked.

“Your name in Chinese,” he replied stubbing a Chunghwa cigarette onto pristine grey paving stones. Chunghwa was Mao’s favourite brand. This gave it prestigious status across China like Moutai baijiu, which PLA soldiers discovered during the Long March. Chunghwa is presented in expensive red and gold packaging surmounted by a cartoon of Tiananmen Square. The Hanzi characters for ‘Chunghwa’ can also be read as ‘Zhonghua,’ which literally means ‘relating to China.’ This is great branding. It is produced by the Shanghai Tobacco Group, which is a subsidiary of the joint State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC). CNTC produces three trillion cigarettes each year through its subsidiaries. It won a landmark case to circumvent the 1993 trademark law, which banned use of the name of the nation and use of national monuments, enabling it to retain Chunghwa’s name and associated imagery.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“It’s got a double-meaning.”


“It also means ‘gearstick’ in Mandarin. They think it’s very amusing. You know… Doctor Gearstick.”

“But, Joe, I’ve been handing out the same business card in China for the last 5 years. Nobody ever laughed before.”

“Well, people in Tianjin have got an unusual sense of humour compared to the rest of China. Like your English people.”

He wrenched open the side door of a 7-seater black Buick. We drove through morning traffic. It was not heavy yet, so the driver decided to fix a wrong turn by driving the wrong way across a one-way bridge. The car had government number plates, police lights and a siren so everyone gave way. We got to Binhai New Area on time. We are staying in a 5-star hotel owned by China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation Limited (CASIC), which is manufacturing components for the new aerospace industry. Tianjin is China’s leading city for hi tech development. Currently, CASIC are working on the latest model Airbus, which is being assembled in Binhai New Area. They are also participating in the Shenzhou program, which involves human spaceflight. They are the largest missile maker in China. Our hotel is next to the THIP offices. It’s too early to drop off my bags. I gaze longingly at the hotel’s revolving doors, which are set in a faux imperial entrance (Link to the palace of Alcinous on Phaeacia). I always feel free as soon as I enter a hotel in China. It disconnects me from client agendas. I can hide in my room pretending to be sick or loiter in the foyer looking at over-priced garbage in souvenir shops. Link to Odysseus: a safe place where he can recount his story. Insert Nausicaa figure (Nankai official or KTV hostess). The THIP block is a 10-level office block of contemporary design. It contains a local branch of the Tianjin Bank and a pizza restaurant on the ground floor. We used this bank to convert RMB to USD for a client recently. All the major banks in Shanghai and Beijing had exhausted their foreign exchange allocation for 2009FY. There are 4 elevators serving the upper levels. The corridors and meeting rooms on the third floor are sterile but not worn. The toilets are a mix of Western and Chinese decor. The urinals are American Standard – one of the top brands in China. We hold a preliminary meeting with THIP officials. They stress demonstrating strong financial capacity to the local government officials. LINK & SHIFT By contrast, Nankai District Government offices are impoverished. It is a 4-storey, whitewashed building from the 1990s next to a large construction site. The main entrance is along a cracked driveway. You are confronted by a concrete staircase in the foyer. There are no elevators. We climb to the second level. The floor is scratched colorless linoleum squares. The walls have become chalky (avoid contact with business suit) as the original paintwork wore. The introductory meeting was held in a kind of holding-pen. Deep, wide square soft lounges had been arranged into two distinct lanes with each participant sitting directly opposite their counterpart according to a strict hierarchy. At the back of the room facing the entrance, beneath a bright banner proclaiming the openness of Nankai District Government to Foreign Direct Investment in both Mandarin and English, were two larger, deeper and more worn lounges for the top guys, separated by a traditional tea table that acted as a convenient barrier. It was surmounted by a dusty bunch of artificial orchids. Orchids are renowned for their everlasting fragrance, which has been simulated today by an artificial scent in a spray can. It is regarded as China’s national fragrance. True friendship is called ‘orchid friendship’ and a good friend is known as an ‘orchid guest.’ Note – everything in China is charged with symbolic meaning. This is a standard room configuration for government enterprises in China. It is extremely uncomfortable. I don’t know how many times I’ve ended a meeting with a stiff neck and hip from constantly turning to meet the eyes of my counterparty with sincerity. We are served green tea in thick paper cups from a water dispenser. They can barely sustain the weight and heat of the brew. I waited for the Deputy Party Secretary who was busy smoking in a far corner whilst working his cell phone. He was trying to look like a content-guy but we all knew he was a political broker. Suddenly, Joe left the room. He had seen the District Party Secretary wander across the doorway and he was chasing the chance of a handshake and the opportunity to recall his family to the big boss. Their business had built a lot of sheds for him when the automobile industry was getting started in Jilin in the 1990s. Sadly, he was not successful. We didn’t have time to dwell on this setback. SHIFT We were hustled into another meeting room to translate our visit from salutations to business. It was dominated by a very large rectangular table which had been made out of multiple smaller tables being shunted together, leaving a wide gap in the middle. Microphones had been installed in case we couldn’t hear each other across the cavity, but they were turned OFF. My team were designated the far side of the room. I always choose that position anyway because it meant my mind couldn’t wander into the thick airspace beyond the dirty aluminum windows. Sometimes, there are assistants perched on seats lining the back wall who take notes and refill our tea cups periodically. We sit. We nod. I speak some Mandarin. I throw in a few phrases that make me seem fluent. Everybody seems impressed. I sip tea. I get a viscous stem stuck in my front gum. They are good to chew. I shift it with my tongue. Chairman Mao judged visitors on whether they ate or discarded tea leaves. If they swallowed, they were OK-folks. If they extracted, he marked them down. Our team of four pseudo-bankers is opposed by a team of eight government officials. There is also a technician to operate the projector. This is a normal mismatch in China. Sometimes, you get a whole cricket team of bureaucrats. This makes the drinking games tougher. They take it in turns for one-on-one toasts. So, that means a ratio of 2:1 shots of baijiu at lunch today. The government guys always act like they are volunteering for a suicide mission in some revolutionary movie when they step forward with a shot glass raised before them like a sacred flask. The third-ranking guy usually kicks things off. He’s a bit younger. He speaks good English. He’s got a good future if he can stand the banqueting. He always makes an upfront statement about mutual understanding and cooperation then we all say GANBEI and knock back little tulip-shaped knobs of Mou Tai. It tastes like Midori distilled through a hospital bandage. They start the corporate slideshow. It is promoting a local innovation park. “NANKAI DATARI is prudently located between Nankai and Tianjin Universities,” says the announcer, “where China will create one of the world’s leading hi-tech campuses.” Our project is called GENIUS PARK. It is a mixed-use development on the site of eleven bankrupt SOEs. The only business still trading is a tractor manufacturer, so we rebadge the project as NANKAI TRACTORS. It helps us keep our equilibrium in a world of hype. CUT TO SITE Shiny green and yellow farm tractors are stockpiled in mounds at the entrance. The compound has high walls made of very small rectangular red bricks fixed in place by white grouting. They must have been whitewashed recently because the air is filthy in Tianjin. It was beautiful in September but now the atmosphere has hardened and thickened as winter starts. We drive around the internal site perimeter. There is a creek beyond a crumbling back fence which is overwhelmed by garbage and reeds. It acts as a natural barricade to a major national freight rail line and expressway system (still under construction). In Mandarin, I ask whether we could get an on-off ramp added to the infrastructure plan. Their reply is “no problem” (mei wenti). We stop. The doors are opened. We all get out of the van. As soon as I am free, I press over the lowest part of the fence, jump a short pit, climb a small embankment and stand on the summit overlooking the rail line. I always get a great sense of history out of railways. In China, they always remind me of the JAPAN BIG WAR (Re Ben Da Zhan). The invaders used rail lines as an arrow to guide their invasion of China in 1937. The Chinese withdrew along them to escape. Eventually, they got into the mountains where the rail lines stopped and consolidated their resources in Chongqing. The steady lotion of freight passes. I would like to die to the sound of rolling stock clicking over a branch line slowly. It’s soothing to the heart. Rail lines are always about average people who are known as ‘old hundred names’ (lao bai xing) in China. I crunch along splintering sleepers set in beds of ageless granite ballast and gaze down the corridor towards the sea. Meanwhile, everybody starts smoking Chunghwa’s back at the van. This is an episode I like to repeat all over China. My guys know how to stand back and wait while I look heroic. I’ve never grown up. I’m trapped in the mind of a child really. I can’t expose myself to the risk of ridicule. In this way, I am unlike Odysseus. He was always able to humble himself to tell a good story. This is what he did with Alcinous. It tricked the King of Phaeacia into facilitating his journey back to Ithaca, unaware of the certainty of Poseidon’s revenge. He turned piled a huge mountain on their port, ending their way of life. Nausicaa was buried in the subsequent carnage like Ana Lafei. This image brings back a sequence of turbulent project sites: Wushao Expressway, Fujian province; Fanwei in far-west Hubei beyond Xiangfan: Chengtang North, Tangshan City, Hebei (site of the terrible earthuqaker in 1976 which prefaced the death of Mao and change of regime); Binzhou Bridge, Shandong over the dry summer bed of the Yellow River. INSERT PICTURES. Then there are all the industrial parks starting with Beijing Development Area (BDA) outside Ring Road 6. I was sent there with a water engineer from Sydney to work out why a state-of-the-art Austrian sewerage treatment plant was discharging raw sewage into the local river. It turned out that local officials had embezzled the funds designated to buy filters. We didn’t expose them. We sold them some new kit instead. That gained us massive deal flow. We completed Sale and leaseback deals on assembly sheds for Mercedes and Nokia. Merewether acquired the Premier Opto-Electronic Technology Campus. A cluster of industrial and logistics assets (68,500sqm) owned by Gold Sands (Beijing Jindikechang Co Ltd.) was vended to Blackball. We paid out almost half of our transaction costs in success fees, mainly to intermediaries in Hong Kong. These door-openers took us to new deals across north-east China. I flicked the Comuni Electronics plant at Changchun, former capital of Manchukuo, to a Hong Kong developer. It was a huge rezoning play (430,000 sqm). The government had arbitrarily terminated the lease, resumed the land and sued the former proponent after putting him in jail. Now they wanted to cash-in the asset. We did the same type of deal at Lianyungang Port, next to the old nuclear power plant that Deng praised as a symbol of progress back in 1986. Lianyungang was designated as the Eastern Terminal for the NEW EURASIA LANDLINE. A brass plaque on a piece of unhewn rock deep inside a valley of container boxes in the shunting yard heralded the starting point of an overland railway to the Netherlands. This project was later integrated into One Belt One Road (yi dai yi lu). The port manager pointed-out a mound of red fines and said excitedly, “Ao-Da-Li-Ya!” This was back before Australia became a chicken getting throttled to death by China to spook the American monkey. You need to stick to your knitting and never shoot off your mouth. That’s my lesson. I never ventured past Fujian province in the south. Guangdong was someone else’s domain. They were more brutal in their methods and controlled their own set of foreign bankers more strictly. That’s how Neil got dead like Tom Hallem. Caught in a powerplay and way out of his depth. I’ve got to act poor at the moment so they think all the money is gone. Let the business run down. Leave rent unpaid. Let them put padlocks and chains around the front office doors. Send my family back to Australia ostensibly on vacation. Get a return ticket to Hong Kong. From there, I can fly to Australia without risk. My loot is hidden in a private bank account at UBS Singapore. They shifted tax operations to Asia after Obama got into the headquarters in Zurich. INSERT LINKS TO ODYSSEUS: got back to Sydney/Ithaca with nothing > sunk fleet full of gifts (xenia) > just the family home left to recover (his ‘palace’) > suitors = creditors > ominous atmos. LINK SHANGHAI DOG TO TOM & BILLY. In C10, Tom arrives @ EAX bankrupt spiritually and financially after an arduous voyage. Highlight discrepancies with Billy. (1) Tom has no direction home (2) no home (3) he is entering (en)closure. In contrast, Billy is… is… setting out on his journey from a stable base. Flips Shanghai Dog in terms of his point-of-journey. But similar foundation. SHIFT TEXT BACK TO COURSE OF W. ROCKS. A chapter about penetrating movement across Sydney-as-Dublin. SET SCENE FOR C7. Location = Shakespeare Hotel. Tom and Billy converge then separate decisively. Breaking of a chicken’s dry wishbone. One wins. One loses. END